Desperate for Hope
Based on Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 2
“…The people walking in darkness…”, seems like a fairly succinct and accurate description of our world during the year of our Lord 2020. Since the middle of March, we have found ourselves avoiding crowded spaces, physically distancing, wearing masks, washing our hands, cleaning high traffic areas, working and schooling remotely and searching for toilet paper. Life as it had come to be known for more than 100 years came to a screeching halt. The might and hubris of our world rendered impotent by a virus that averages 100 nm in diameter! Anxiety, fear and other dark emotions, along with unhealthy doses of misinformation, have dominated the world since those first dark days. For nine long months we have desperately hoped for some source of sanity – of light in our world; for an indication of an end to things as they are and a return to some new form of normalcy. We have spent the bulk of the year in the in-between time of now and not yet; we have been living an extended season of Advent.
We gather tonight on Christmas Eve 2020 having shared the stories of the coming of God into the world – the miracle of Emmanuel, the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. From the prophecies which foretold a divine king of the line of David who would return Judah to her rightful role as a kingdom ruled by justice, righteousness and peace; to the travails of an impoverished couple traveling in the final days of a pregnancy to fulfill the laws of an occupying empire. We’ve heard of a birth in the farthest corner of a forgotten town, of shepherds befuddled and frightened by angels and three astrologers traveling untold miles following a star that foretold the birth of a king. Taken in isolation, none of these tales amounts to anything amazing – taken together and knowing how this child grows and changes the world, this becomes nothing less than hope for those who are desperate – long awaited light for those in deep darkness!
Ours is not the first instance of darkness overshadowing the people of God – not even close. It was very dark in the land of Judah in the 8th century BCE when the prophet Isaiah spoke about the return of the fortunes of the Davidic line and a ruler who would reign with peace, righteousness and justice. This lightened the minds and hearts of those who heard the prophecy even as they mourned the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians. The light would last about a hundred years before the Babylonians would complete the conquest of Judah and institute the 70-year exile of her leaders. Dark and desperate times indeed!
Fast forward 700 years to the time of King Herod and Augustus the Emperor of Rome. The people of Palestine were in a dark place and desperate for hope. Taxes from the Empire, King Herod and the Temple kept all people enslaved and impoverished. No prophet had been heard in Israel for 400 years and the people despaired that God had God’s promises and them. When would all the promises and prophecies be fulfilled, they wondered? When would the warrior-king, the Messiah, arrive to free the people and return Israel to her former Davidic glory? Unbeknownst to the people of Palestine, God was at work and the fullness of time had arrived. God was going to roll back the dark to reveal God’s-self as a human with the help of some angels and one bright star as an announcement.
In the two millennia since the birth of Jesus there have been many other dark times. The persecutions and martyring of countless Christian believers which began in 60 CE and didn’t end until the early 300’s; the Dark Ages after the fall of Rome; the plagues which wiped out half of the population of Europe; the many Crusades and other misguided wars – some against fellow Christians; the Inquisition and other destructive policies of the institutional Church and her appointed leaders; these are “highlights” of some of the darkest of seasons. Thus, we find ourselves in familiar company as we live through our current darkness – desperate for a hope that lasts and will not disappoint.
Desperate for a hope beyond our own abilities is why Christian believers across time, who have faith in the Almighty power of God’s great love, gather together in Spirit and in truth to celebrate once again the coming of Emmanuel. To hear the stories and sing the hymns that tell of this life-changing event that happened so long ago, even as we await Jesus’ return in power and in glory. We gather tonight to light our candles from the flame of the Christ candle to show how it is that no darkness can stand against the light of the world held in beloved community. To desperately and persistently hope that God, in the fullness of time, will act again in a mighty way to bring God’s kingdom fully to earth. Until that glorious day, we carry the light of our desperate hope in the Christ into a world that is dark with conflict, distrust, and heresy. Into a world that doubts, into a world that is anxious, fearful, lonely, isolated, and thus in need of our light. We who have walked in that darkness have not only seen a great light, but we carry that light within us – the embodied light of God. This is what incarnation truly means. It means that God so loved us that God came down, fully human and fully divine in one person, that we might come to understand how we too have the divine within us. Therefore, we cling to our desperate hope that God will do what God has always done to light the dark – love us unconditionally, be faithful to God’s promises and seek to be in relationship with us always, through Jesus Christ our Lord…amen!